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WEEPING ARCHULETA MINIMIZES HIS ROLE IN DOG VALLEY SLAYING

SHARE WEEPING ARCHULETA MINIMIZES HIS ROLE IN DOG VALLEY SLAYING

The capital homicide trial of Michael Anthony Archuleta was expected to go to a 4th District Court jury Thursday.

Archuleta, charged with killing Gordon Ray Church on Nov. 22, 1988, took the stand in his own defense Wednesday and downplayed his involvement in the slaying. He said co-defendant Lance Conway Wood, who will be tried Feb. 20, was the real perpetrator.Archuleta wept through part of his testimony as he recounted how the victim was beaten to death with a tire jack. Millard County investigators found Church's badly beaten and half-nude body, covered with dirt and tree limbs, a day after the killing in an area north of Cove Fort known as Dog Valley.

Portions of Archuleta's testimony conflicted with statements from six witnesses, and he denied several statements investigators had attributed to him. He also admitted intentionally misleading investigators.

Archuleta said Wood had been drinking heavily the evening prior to the slaying and that he was angry over a spat with his live-in girlfriend, Brenda Stapley.

"I feel that this happened because of Lance wanting blood," Archuleta said. "He didn't care whose blood it was. He wanted revenge because Brenda went to Arizona to see another guy."

Archuleta admitted, however, that he also had been drinking and that he had an argument that evening with his live-in girlfriend.

Archuleta said he and Wood left their apartment and walked to Main Street in Cedar City, where they met the victim. After "cruising" for a while, Church drove the men up Cedar Canyon and stopped after pulling onto a dirt road.

"I asked him (Church) if he was gay. He said he was," Archuleta said. "That's when everything started to happen."

At different points in his testimony, Archuleta both admitted and denied that he had sex with the victim. A short while later while Church was talking to Wood, he said Wood pulled a knife on Church. Wood tackled Church when he fled, breaking the victim's arm. Wood then cut his neck, Archuleta said.

"I do believe I said, `We're in trouble,' " Archuleta said. "We chained Gordon up, tied him up and put him in the trunk. I don't know why we did that."

Archuleta said he wanted to drop Church off and take his car. After he and Wood pulled off I-15 about 70 miles north of Cedar City, "I thought maybe he (Wood) was thinking the same thing I was . . . that we were going to leave him up there."

"Did Gordon deserve to die?" asked defense attorney Michael Esplin.

"No, he didn't," replied Archuleta.

The defendant said he and Wood pulled Church from the car trunk and tried to shock him using jumper cables hooked to the car battery. Witnesses testified earlier that Archuleta admitted hooking the cables to the battery, but on Wednesday he denied doing so.

"What were you thinking then?" Esplin asked.

Archuleta replied, "At the time, I thought Gordon wasn't going to leave the canyon. I was up to my neck already. It was one event after another."

He said Wood then twisted Church's neck, and that the victim fell to the ground.

"I heard like a smack, something hitting something else," Archuleta said. "He (Wood) had his foot on Gordon's face and was swinging the jack like a golf club . . . or like a mallet when you play croquet."

After being struck several times by the jack, Church appeared dead. Archuleta said Wood then stabbed him with a tire iron.

Archuleta said he has been plagued by continued flashbacks of Church's killing. While in a jail cell after being arrested, Archuleta said, he needed to talk to someone about his hallucinations.

"I was seeing Gordon. He was right there. I could see Gordon saying, `Why are you doing this to me?' I could see Gordon laying on the ground. I could see the shallow grave Gordon was in. I could see myself standing right next to Gordon, looking at him. I still see him."

Esplin asked Archuleta, "You wanted to talk to someone so it would go away?"

Replied Archuleta, "It'll never go away."